CLEARWATER — The politically messy decision of whether City Council members should get paid more to serve the public is, for the moment, out of the hands of the five people who occupy those seats.
Earlier this month, council member Lina Teixeira proposed increasing the salaries of the elected officials in order to attract candidates beyond retirees and independently wealthy people.
Council member Mark Bunker noted his discomfort with giving himself a raise. Council member Kathleen Beckman said the discussion should go further, to whether creating council districts could increase diversity.
On Thursday, the City Council voted to punt the question of how much elected officials should be paid to the citizen-led Charter Review Committee, which convened in February to consider various changes to Clearwater’s government. The council also directed the 11-member committee to study the possibility of districts to replace the current structure of five at-large seats.
The Charter Review Committee discussed both concepts the last time it met in 2019. Members spent several weeks deliberating voting systems and district representation but could not come to an agreement. The committee recommended increasing the number of council members to seven at-large seats, but the council did not advance the change.
After deliberating council member salaries, the 2019 committee did not recommend an increase due to the current duties of the office defined in the charter, according to its final report.
In Clearwater, council members are paid $27,492 and the mayor is paid $32,990, while the city manager runs day-to-day operations of the city. Teixeira argued that, while the job is presented as part time, the duties at all hours block parents raising children or workers with full-time jobs from serving.
Last year, the Tampa City Council deliberated raises for some of the same reasons. But after debate, the council voted 4-3 against raising their salaries from $52,060 to nearly $74,000.
After the Charter Review Committee makes its recommendations later this year, the council can then accept or reject any of the items. Most changes, such as the creation of districts, would require the council to place a question on the ballot because the City Charter doesn’t authorize the creation of districts, according to city attorney David Margolis.
Council salaries are a different case. The charter already authorizes the council to modify their salaries by ordinance, Margolis said.
Even if the Charter Review Committee decides against an increase, the council could still vote to make the change. If the committee decides elected officials should be paid more, the council could place the question on the March 2024 ballot or approve the raise directly by ordinance, Margolis said.